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Leading Michigan’s Emergence as a Tech Startup Hub: Billhighway CEO Vince Thomas (Part 5)

Posted on Monday, Jan 7th 2013

Sramana: How did you find your first big client?

Vince Thomas: It was a very interesting experience. The client was based out of Dallas, Texas, so I flew down there from Detroit. I knew conceptually what they client needed. I put together a surface-level demonstration which was tailored for their situation. It did a bit more than our system could actually do at that point.

I did the presentation in front of their staff, and they loved it. I left there obtaining a six-month pilot where a smaller portion of their organization would use Billhighway on a trial basis. During that pilot period I was able to figure out more of what they needed and how they needed the technology to function. I developed solutions to the technology gaps very quickly and was working night and day during that time.

What we built gave great results, and the client was very happy. The next year I went out and got three more clients just like them, and we kept rolling forward from there. By the end of the next three-year period, we had 11 rather large contracts.

Sramana: What do you consider a big contract?

Vince Thomas: They are between $600,000 and $2 million a year contracts. For us they are substantial.

Sramana: Those are big contracts for anybody.

Vince Thomas: That is what gave me the fuel to reinvest in the business and keep the development leaning forward.

Sramana: Did this happen around 2003?

Vince Thomas: We got our first big contract in 2003 and we have been growing substantially since then. We have had to reinvest money into the technology. The first nine years of the business we found that a lot of the reinvestment was aimed at infrastructure, both technology and human. In the past two years we have invested in outward marketing and sales groups. We did not have that stuff during the first 10 years of the business. Marketing and sales were not a big focus of ours.

Sramana: If you have six or seven large clients, you will have enough revenue to build the business. Where did you find it was possible to scale your operation? What were the technology investments that you made that pay off for you?

Vince Thomas: We believe that most things should either be automated or they should be outsourced. We have a mix of things we have automated. That is either technology automation or leveraging outside partners to some extent. In 2012 we are going to process around $3 billion of transactions through our platform. We have a very small team in our accounting area that tracks those transactions because much of it is automated through our banking partners and merchant processors.

From a support perspective, we have what is called a client care team which is our front line support to our clients. That group today has seven people in it, and it had seven people in it five years ago. That just demonstrates how much we will rely on technology to scale the business.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Leading Michigan's Emergence as a Tech Startup Hub: Billhighway CEO Vince Thomas
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